Nathan's Reviews > The Expats

The Expats by Chris Pavone
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Mar 24, 2012

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Read from March 19 to 23, 2012

I heard about Chris Pavone's first novel from the NYT book review. I found the story to be gripping and had hopes for a 4-5 star review until I came to the close.

The story centers on Kate Moore, an ex-spook from the CIA with a skeleton or two in her career closet. Seeking a change for her family, she agrees to suddenly uproot their lives from Washington DC and move to Luxembourg, where her husband can take a high-paying position as a security consultant for a bank. Soon after moving, Kate is noticing suspicious activity from her husband and new friends. Whether it is a conspiracy to settle an old CIA debt, her husband's dubious career, or just a figment of her over-active mind is up to the reader to sort out. Kate is one of the best female protagonists I've read in some time - smart and capable but deeply human.

I enjoyed the tacit contract that Pavone creates with the reader. Applying a liberal dose of foreshadowing throughout keeps the reader on guard and conscious of Kate's suspicions and and plans. The way that Kate manipulates others, and her beliefs on how others are manipulating her, make for a gripping story without the need for the author to come out and directly sort out the cards for the reader. However, a few times throughout (especially near the end), that contract is broken with a scene where Kate shockingly realizes what the reader took for granted as ccommon knowledge well before. C'mon, Kate, you should have known better, that's how you survived so long as a field operative!

The story is told through two separate story threads, one beginning two years before the present when the Moore's first move to Lux, the other set presently as she approaches the climax that the reader is trying to decode. It's a great way to tell the story, mixing questions the reader is figuring out with assurances to a thrilling close. I was not a fan of the choppiness near the end when the individual story lines also start to be told in a skipping back-and-forth way. While it allows more shock for the reader, this could have been done with out all the back-and-forth (and without affecting the smooth flow of the plot).

Aside from these problems, I was ultimately disappointed with the ending (hence the lower rating than previously expected). A surprisingly frank discussion of the major characters near the end is bewildering for me to comprehend. As an earlier quote in the book put it, "What's the upside?" The story was enjoyable to read precisely because the reader did not have to make such a disbelieving jump to get through the story. The book also suffers from an increasingly common trend in this genre - the need for the story to drag on with more and more inane twists. One character finally realizes that the whole time he/she was being entirely manipulated by another character, who then realizes that he/she was entirely manipulated by another character, who realizes... If it would have ended where it was originally going, maybe with a slight twist, I would have been much more favorable to the story. Also Kate's sudden inexplicable (and not very relatable) reaction in the final pages disappointed me. After allowing the reader to become increasingly invested into Kate as a person, it was shameful to watch her emotions get the best of her.
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